Collections – When to Give Up

Every property I’ve owned has had tenants who didn’t pay. Some forgot, some didn’t have the money, some were just scamming us, and we didn’t always know the true situation. The vast majority of us as owners and landlords are trying very hard to provide safe, comfortable homes and empathize with tenants – our clients – when they hit on hard times. However, it’s extremely important that we have a clear plan for how to respond to situations when a tenant doesn’t pay rent.

First, keep in mind you are providing a service, a home, for your tenants. That is a contribution to the social well-being of the community and you should feel pride in that. You’re a giver, not a taker.

Every tenant is different but there are common attributes that allow you to make consistent, reasonable, and legal decisions for all tenants. They came onto the property with income sources or a promise by a housing authority or social service agency to pay the rent. If they aren’t paying any longer, it’s your job to find out why and require them to provide you with a plan that you can accept for resuming payment and catching up with missed payments. It’s their job to communicate and cooperate.

Without communication and cooperation, it is a clear decision path to begin the process of requiring them to leave your apartment.

Look at their background and their history with you. Have they been late before? Did they eventually pay everything they owed? How much of an ordeal was it to get payment?

If this was their first missed payment, there could be room for leniency. Maybe give them more time to pay without telling them to leave. Do they have other qualities? Like they let you know about troubles on the property? Did they get to know neighbors and give you a heads up about an issue on the property? Did they fix broken things in their unit themselves? Those are all good reasons to give them a chance to find the payment.

But in all circumstances, apply the late fee. Be sure it’s in your leases to be able to apply it and be consistent. Otherwise this tenant will for sure be late again, and will share their excellent discovery with appreciative neighbors.

If you told them to vacate and they decided they were too comfortable to leave, and you filed for eviction and then they paid, you probably have to let them stay, as annoying as that is. (I’m not an attorney, not providing legal advice, so confirm what I’m suggesting.)

Another way to require them to leave, which became more prevalent during the pandemic, is to go to court for breach of contract. If you win, when the judgment is issued, you may be able to give the tenant a notice to vacate.

This notice is not based on not paying rent, it is based on the court judgment. Again, confirm the legality of any of these suggestions with your attorney, but when you’re talking to your attorney, ask them about alternatives to evictions. Evictions seem to be permitted again in most states but it is good to know your options.

But there are other options. Again, if they normally pay on time, after the first missed payment get them to agree to a plan that works for you. Say 50% of the payment on the 15th and the balance on the 30th. But then they have payment due on the 5th of the next month. Are they just temporarily short of funds? Do they have a family member who will loan them the rent? If they agree to your plan you’ll need to know how they’re going to find next month’s rent so you’re not just kicking the can down the road.

I’ve become more adamant that any repayment plan has to be short term and enforced. If a tenant is paying more than they can afford, they need to understand that and have a strong incentive to find housing that is more affordable. Contact the social service agency yourself and get them connected to your tenant. Many tenants don’t know who to contact and where to go, and you do. They will appreciate your caring approach.